Out Of This Furnace Essay, Research Paper
OUT OF THIS FURNACE
BY THOMAS BELL.
Out of This Furnace tells a impressive story of a multigenerational family of Slovakian immigrants who comes to the United States in search of a better life in the New World. The patriarch of the Slovak family was Djuro Kracha, who arrived in the New World in the mid-1880s from the “old country.” The story tells of his voyage, his work on the railroad to earn enough money to afford the walk to the steel mills of Pennsylvania, his rejection by the larger mainstream community as a “hunkey,” and the lives of his daughter and grandson. As the members of this family become more generally acculturated and even Americanized, they come to resent the cruel treatment and the discrimination they suffer.
For the Kracha family, a slow rise to proud business ownership was ended by a series of events: (1) a summer of drunken abandon by Djuro; (2) his return to the steel mills (3) his daughter’s (Mary) marriage to a fellow countryman also in the mills; and (4) his grandson’s growing discontentment with unfair labor practices and abuses. These events in the Kracha family’s lives become intertwined with the story of America’s own transformation between the 1880s and the 1940s.
At the time that this family arrived in the United States, a new wave of Eastern European immigration – spurred by growing industrialization and the advances in technology leading to the establishment of steel mills and other manufacturing and raw material processing factories and plants – was reshaping the American labor force. Djuro’s experiences, and those of his son-in-law, Mike Dobrejcak, reflect a certain level of hostility towards these Eastern and Central Europeans from “mainstream” Americans and earlier, more acculturated groups of immigrants including the Irish.
Certainly the lives of the Krachas were negatively affected by many stereotypical views and attributions. Those men and women had sought citizenship in America, Bell suggested, because of a desire to improve their lives and the futures of their families. None of the men described by Bell – from Djuro to Mike to Dobie – fail to work hard and to accept the necessity of hard work as a means of achieving the goal. A single episode of drunkenness should not be allowed to denigrate the years of work in which Djuro performed efficiently and effectively and worked to become a part of the “American dream.” Bell made this crystal clear, just as he also made it clear that Mike’s idealism (and its transmission to Dobie), is an inevitable consequence of a desire to become a fuller participant in that dream.
Opponents of immigration have expressed concerns that by accepting unprecedented numbers of immigrants the country would rapidly alter its own ethnic character. At the time that this novel is set, it had been argued that these diverse ethnic groups had a damaging effect upon the culture of the United States, though this assertion had not been proven correct. Dobie Dobrejcak’s own determination to improve the working conditions, treatment, economic prospects, and very lives of working men was fundamentally “American” in that it addressed issues of justice, fairness and equality. His belief that such a social transformation was possible attested to the continued vitality of the American Dream and the willingness of people to pursue that dream against great odds.
The ideas advanced at the turn of the century with respect to the potentially debilitating influence of an immigrant population upon American culture have not been borne out by this country’s social and cultural experience. The vast majority of all immigrant groups that have come to American in search of freedom and economic opportunity have made enormous contributions to the growth of this country. In art, literature, economics, and politics, the Irish, Poles, other Eastern Europeans, Latinos, and Asians have been side-by-side partners in creating the American cultural makeup. Early on, westward expansion was made possible for immigrant workers; today, such workers continue to take necessary jobs which might otherwise have gone begging. There is no evidence to suggest that “Jews or Catholics,” the Irish or the Slavs, have lowered America’s “moral fiber.” Certainly Bell argues that this was not the case at the turn of the century and, more significantly, that these groups of immigrants worked to make American progress and achievement possible.
Bell references with respect to the lives of Mike and Mary the fact that immigrants are in demand when expansionary economies exist and out of favor when economic recessions occur. As the 1920s’ unfolded, a prolonged period of economic recession followed by depression made new arrivals both unpopular and, economically, unnecessary.
This book shed enormous light on the lives of immigrants like the Krachas and the Dobrejacs and on their determination to achieve their own parity and equality in a land often hostile to them. Being “American” did not essentially change in the story; what changes that is significant was a determination to work against those forces that would prevent the assimilation of this family into the economic and social mainstream.
In attempting to understand the “American experience,” one must first recognize that it is not a single, prototypical experience. For the early colonists, the New World represented a unique opportunity to acquire land and property, to achieve the freedom to worship God in one’s own manner, to overcome the limits placed upon social mobility by an aristocratic Old World social system, and freedom to develop one’s own potentials as one wished. For the vast number of new immigrants who came to the U.S., these same dreams and values held true.
Immigration has always been a topic of controversy in the United States. Many people then believed in the right of man to immigrate from one country to another as one which belongs to him by his own constitution and by every principle of justice. Others also believed that the immigrant population benefited the country by providing for an influx of human and other capital which facilitated the economic growth, development, and prosperity of the U.S.
Arguments offered against immigration focused on the “differences” of new groups. For the most part, early opponents of liberal immigration policies such as the Native American Party argued that the country stood in imminent peril from the rapid and enormous increase of the “body of residents of foreign birth, imbued with foreign feelings, and of ignorant and immoral character who receive the elective franchise and the right of eligibility to political offices.” Others argued that the new immigrants harmed American society because they were largely uneducated, impoverished, unskilled, and in many instances, strongly under the control of Catholic and Jewish religious beliefs.
A very real element of early opposition to specific groups of immigrants focused upon Catholics (the Irish and the Italians), Eastern European Jews, and other groups stereotypically perceived as inferior to Anglo-Saxon stock. Arguments against immigration in the period between the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century tended to focus on such issues as the adaptability of diverse ethnic groups to American culture and on concerns that the new immigrants would lack the capacity for adaptation.
Typical views against immigration held that:
1) foreigners lower the general plane of intelligence, efficiency, and orderliness;
2) foreigners increase alcoholism, crime, and immorality;
3) barriers of speech, education, and religious faith causes societal divisiveness; and
4) immigrants add to the number of poor in the country, tend to be illiterate, and to cause overpopulation in cities.
Early settlers of the United States were originally a homogenous mixture of predominately white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant immigrants. Throughout the past 200 years Americans have attempted to weld millions of immigrants and their descendants from various sources (and Africans forced into slavery) into the contemporary American people.
If the United States is not a true “melting pot,” it may well be a complex “fruit salad” composed of widely disparate peoples, ethnic and racial groups, religious belief systems, and political orientations. Each of these groups has both helped to shape the American dream and has shared in that experience – sometimes happily – sometimes with great difficulty. One of the major influences on the shaping of the American economic system was a series of “waves” of immigration that helped bring about dramatic changes in the population census of the country.
The United States of America has come to mean many different things to many different people. At the very heart of the “American dream” are the twin ideas of freedom and equality. This nation was founded on the republican principles of justice for all, friendship with all nations, and entangling alliances with none. These basic principles have, over time, undergone some changes. The United States today has, for example, any number of “entangling alliances” that are highly influential in shaping its domestic and foreign policies. Nevertheless, the principle of “justice for all” remains in force and continues to attract new immigrants each year, while fostering conflicted efforts to determine what actually constitutes “justice and equality.”
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